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review 2017-03-09 21:56
Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's entry in the "novelists take on Shakespeare's plays" lineup, and is her take on The Tempest.


Felix, the director of a Canadian theater festival, and a lover of Shakespeare, is planning his latest extravaganza: a production of The Tempest, starring a teenaged gymnast as Miranda.  And then he finds his assistant has betrayed him and taken his job.  His daughter, Miranda, has just died, at age 3.  He is a broken man.


And so, using an assumed name ("Mr. Duke"), he goes off into the wilderness to become a hermit, living only with the spirit of his dead daughter.  After a while, he revives enough to stalk his former assistant on the internet, as the latter goes from success to success.  He also eventually becomes the leader of an inmate rehabilitation program, teaching literacy and job skills, down at the local prison. 


His teaching method: staging Shakespeare.  The prisoners are both cast and crew (the "job skills" part) for plays like MacBeth and Julius Caesar.  His next production: The Tempest.


And then he finds out his former assistant, now a government minister, is going to be attending the performance.  And a plan forms in his mind.  One that will involve some of the special skills of his cast, who include pickpockets, ex gang enforcers, black hat hackers, and a crooked accountant.


I dithered between giving this 3.5 and 4 stars.  The writing is pure Atwood.  The plot, however - it's that fourth act that gives me pause.  Is it as good as Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid's Tale?  No.  Is it still an interesting and entertaining novel?  Yes, absolutely.

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review 2017-02-10 20:57
Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Honestly, from my friends’ descriptions of the book I was expecting something completely different. I was expecting the world Offred lives in to be openly violent and brutal rather than one filled with subtle brutality, psychological warfare, and religious control. In my opinion, the world Margaret Atwood created is frighteningly believable.


There were many subjects dealt with in this relatively small book, and I think they were all handled skillfully. The Handmaid’s Tale deals with the power of religion, woman’s place in society, man’s place in society, and a struggle to reconcile personal freedom with the survival of people as a whole. It offers a lot of food for thought and, like I said, it’s relatively small; a little over 300 pages, which is amazing, considering all the subjects covered.


The best and most chilling part for me is that the narrator still remembers what it was like to live in the “old world,” where women could hold jobs, marry whomever they fell in love with, and be free. The flashbacks to her life as a free woman added a lot to the horror of how the world is now structured in the novel. My favorite part is “Historical Notes” added at the end (these are necessary to the novel — read them, don’t skip!), which gave the novel a hopeful tone. This, I appreciated, because it shows that humans are capable of rising above an overbearing, immoral government, no matter how hard they try to oppress people.


Overall, I would recommend everybody to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I know quite a few people don’t like it, but I really do think that it offers interesting subject matter told in an entertaining way. This is one dystopia I’m definitely glad to have read.

Source: www.purplereaders.com/?p=2141
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text 2017-01-30 01:51
Notes on Adaptation: Handmaid's Tale Trailer
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

So the first trailer for the new "Handmaid's Tale" has been out for a couple of weeks. And it does look pretty darn good.




I don't need to repeat myself, but I'm a strong believer in ALWAYS READING THE BOOK FIRST. Why? Because films are always an interpretation of a primary text. As is your own reading. Reading is interpretation. Make your own interpretation, then see someone else's.


Here's where this comes into play in a major way, especially with something that is probably going to be uber-popular (speculative fiction usually is, and people know Margaret Atwood and "Handmaid's Tale" are much-beloved): People will watch the show first; that will be their primary text, and if they bother, they will compare their interpretation of the book to the film as if the film were primary. Or they won't bother to read the book (even worse) and think they KNOW the book, even though what they know is the filmmakers' interpretation. 


For readers like me who believe in the primacy of the text, this is annoying, to say the least. 



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review 2017-01-27 19:15
Margaret Atwood: The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

I read this over Christmas, so only about a month ago, but it turns out I'd already forgotten half the plot. After briefly refreshing my memory, here's what I've got.


It's the near future and most major industries have collapsed due to an unspecified economic breakdown. Stan and Charmaine are living out of their car, working odd jobs and trying to make ends meet. When they are offered a safe(ish) life in a walled-off experimental town, they don't hesitate for long. The only catch: every other month they have to leave their artificial 1950s bliss for a stint in the town's prison. Meanwhile, alternates take their place – and soon throw their lives into turmoil. 


There are a few things about this novel that are just off, for lack of a better word. The main thing I couldn't get over was how naive and uncritical Charmaine was made out to be. Of course she was meant to be a foil to Stan (and her other, more secret self with Max) and a mirror of this whole 1950s aesthetic and how false it is, but come on: I opened the book at a random page to refamiliarise myself with the novel, and there she is, not even saying, but thinking: "Dang it to heck, I dropped a stitch."


You'd think a woman who has survived economic collapse and post-apocalyptic wastelands would get to swear inside the safety of her own head, but no. It's meant to be satirical, but it just kind of falls flat. And this assessment holds true for a large part of the novel. 


Then there's the respectability politics. Charmaine and Stan are not doing well, but at least they're not those people. Charmaine might be a waitress at the beginning of the narrative, but she can still sneer at sex workers. Stan doesn't have a job and no prospects of getting one, but a life of crime? Unthinkable. 


Margaret Atwood has always had certain blind spots (and penned some remarkable novels nonetheless), but in this book it was especially noticeable that what happens in the world is not a dystopia until it happens to formerly affluent, mentally and physically healthy, heterosexual white people. (For whom else were the 50s a grand time, anyway?)


All of this could have worked, and Atwood tries for an over the top, black humour approach, but it just doesn't, in the end. Work. By the time the last quarter of the book rolled around I was waiting for a very specific twist that might have made it all worthwhile, perhaps, but even that didn't happen. It was just sad to see a great author so out of touch. 

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review 2016-12-21 00:54
Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Margaret Atwood

Your profanity, thinks Felix, has oft been your whoreson hag-born progenitor of literacy.

When I learned that Margaret Atwood had written a book for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, I was both thrilled and hesitant to pick it up. I love Atwood’s work. I love Shakespeare. However, there are elements of both authors writing that I can see would react like fire and ice.


Atwood is one of my go-to authors for strong female characters. Shakespeare does not come immediately to my mind for that purpose. On the other hand, I love Shakespeare’s thoughtful and often sensitive male characters, which in turn is not something I have really found in an Atwood novel. Most of Atwood’s male characters I’ve encountered were horrid human beings. I mean look at Atwood’s Penelopiad (part of the Canongate Myths Series) to see even the most ancient of heroes being taken down a few pegs. Not that I object – I very much enjoyed her modern deconstruction of the classic story, but I do sometimes feel a little sorry for the male characters that cross her path.

Therefore it is fair to say, I really had some misgivings how Atwood would approach this re-telling of The Tempest, which is packed with men full of ambition, desire, and longings for revenge, and where the only female character, Miranda, is being maneuvered like a chess piece.


I was wrong.


Hag-Seed showed that despite their differences, there are also a few things that Shakespeare and Atwood have in common: the ability to come up with a gripping narrative, imaginative ways of explaining the world as they observe it by relating different angles to the unsuspecting reader, a talent for striking a balance between thought-provoking and evocative writing, and best of all an enormous sense of having fun with words.


Readers who may have been put off Shakespeare by having had to sit through endless recitals of famous lines in school may not remember it but Shakespeare was funny. If nothing else, there are memes and objects out there that still thrive on Shakespeare’s appeal to the sense of fun in people. None more so than the Shakespearean insult kit (see here or here for a bit of fun).


Atwood, who can also be wickedly funny, has picked up on this, and actually uses it to lighten up the otherwise potentially depressing or even threatening setting of a prison, where we get to await in anticipation how the inmates will  put Shakespeare’s own words to a more creative use. I honestly looked forward to the inmates getting to grips with Shakespeare’s The Tempest by using his own swear words:

“Born to be hanged. A pox o’your throat. Bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog. Whoreson. Insolent noisemaker. Wide-chapp’d rascal. Malignant thing. Blue-eyed hag. Freckled whelp hag-born. Thou earth. Thou tortoise. Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself. As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed, With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen, Drop on you both. A south-west blow on ye, And blister you all o’er. Toads, beetles, bats light on you. Filth as thou art. Abhorr’ed slave. The red plague rid you. Hag-seed. All the infections that the sun sucks up, From bogs, fens, flats, fall on – add name here – and make him, By inch-meal a disease. Most scurvy monster. Most perfidious and drunken monster. Moon-calf. Pied ninny. Scurvy patch. A murrain on you. The devil take your fingers. The dropsy drown this fool. Demi-devil. Thing of darkness.”

Of course, the investigation into Shakespearean swear words was not the only aspect. I loved. I also loved the scene setting and how Atwood re-imagined the isolation of Prospero’s island in the isolation of the prison, how she transferred the play within the play in The Tempest into a play about a play about a play by making it clear from the outset that Shakespeare’s play The Tempest will be focal point of Felix’s (Atwood’s main character’s) ambition.


I loved how she used the diverse characters to show different interpretations of the original play, and how she transposed issues of colonialism, sexism, privilege, politics, gender issues, and others I haven’t even contemplated yet, from Shakespeare’s work into a modern setting.


So, to anyone, who rolls their eyes at reading Shakespeare because they have been bored to despair with a few lines of his most famous works, I say pick up a copy of Hag-Seed. It is just about one of the most gripping, thoughtful, and entertaining ways to find out why people are still enthralled by his works.

“One question. Is ‘shit’ a curse word? Can we use it, or what?” It’s a fine point, thinks Felix. Technically, “shit” might not be considered a curse word as such, only a scatological expression, but he doesn’t want to hear it all the time. Shit this, shitty that, you shit. He could let them vote on it, but what’s the point of being in charge of this motley assemblage if he refuses to take charge? “‘ Shit’ is off bounds,” he says. “Adjust your cursing accordingly.” “‘ Shit’ was okay last year,” says Leggs. “So how come?” “I changed my mind,” says Felix. “I got tired of it. Too much shit is monotonous, and monotony is anti-Shakespeare.

Miranda - The tempest, by John William Waterhouse

Miranda (The Tempest) by John William Waterhouse

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